Month 21: I Don’t Believe in Potty Pauses

Before someone says they’ve experienced one, and to shut my pie hole, let me explain what I mean.

I don’t believe for a second that potty learned babies (especially full time EC babies)  suddenly lose interest in not soiling themselves.   It goes against biological sense.  And what about the original EC communities?   Those  women who live in nature, on the fringes, and in EC cultures who don’t have Pampers.   Do they just suddenly have toddlers that poop and pee all over them?

It is usually us…the adults, our behavior and our environment, that confounds babies and toddlers.

I don’t think a “potty pause” means “I wish to soil myself“.  I think we misinterpret it because we are a diapering culture and no matter how thoughtful we think we are, we are creatures of habit and we will revolve our solutions and ideas around the familiar.   Our issue is that diapers are our benchmark.   It is this we go back to when we are in a crisis or impasse or minor obstacle.  It is what we know.  But it is not the model nature used.

And therein is the problem.  Using what we’ve learned from our diapering cultures and apply that to the  biological wisdom of babies.   Babies are primitive creatures with primitive drives.   We are the ones who misunderstand with our modern notions.

I think a “potty pause” is a request.    We, in our modern minds, don’t always listen to the more refined communication attempts.  Sometimes the tots need to take a more direct approach.  Intelligent little beings, aren’t they?  That request could be for for more independence, less fussing, more responsibility for themselves, and/or change of location or position. Likewise, a sudden bout of misses signals a need for the parent to take back more responsibility temporarily until they get Things hashed out.    Things we normally would do instinctively but we get stuck in our heads;  Things a mobile baby could do on their own if they lived in a place that didn’t have a titan toilet towering ten feet from the ground and hindering layers of clothing.   Primitive babies were naked and could get to the nice potty hole in the ground by themselves or a special place was provided for them.    If they went through a “potty pause”  it was very likely simply dealt with by more hands giving more help.  No labels, no worries…

We need to remember that pottying is like walking.  Babies have an instinct to do both.  They are processes that grow and develop as the baby does.

When a baby takes those first steps and falls and doesn’t try again for a while we don’t call it a “walking pause” and have this notion that he or she will never walk again and has lost interest in the whole locomotion business.    We instead take it in stride.  We brag about those first steps to whomever will listen, we help the baby to stand, hold them up, provide them with places to pull up on their own, and let them guide us.   One day they need to hold your hand a lot, the next they get mad if you help too much, the next get livid if you offer without being asked, and then are back to requesting your hand so they can explore more.   Of course, along comes an inventor who creates the baby walker and soon an entire generation erroneously thinks babies need them to learn how to walk properly or to encourage babies who seem to have lost interest in taking steps unassisted!

A baby becoming irritated over the potty or missing could be experimenting with holding it longer and aren’t quiet sure of the limit, “Oops, I didn’t expect that,”  but also may want to do more by themselves and do not want too much assistance, “Gee Whiz, I can do it myself!  Stop hovering!”      Perhaps they only want help with the pants only so they can sit on the potty themselves, “Thanks.  Now go away!”   Some may want some privacy once they’ve been situated, “I’m good.  Get out!”   Or efficient walkers may want to sit on the big potty (on an insert) like they’ve seen the adults do and don’t want to use the little potty as much, “I want to use the big potty like you do!”   They may be tired of being reminded too often once the have better capacity, “Don’t you trust me?  Stop pestering me.”    And sometimes they are having accidents due to some brain rewiring and growth restructuring — it’s not unlike being pregnant.  One day you have a bladder of steel, the next you are peeing every hour, the next you sneeze and pee, and one day that little toot-toot turned out to be more than just gas…

The  key difference is that no one assumes you forgot how to go to the toilet and want to soil yourself.

I never put my baby back in diapers even during a “potty pause”  because she wasn’t sick and incontinent.   I calmly changed her pants and waited it out.    If you are going to be changing something, why are pants perceived as more difficult than diapers?  Same amount of laundry, but different (and important) unspoken message.  I had her be part of the clean up process in some way like getting dry clothes — not as punishment — to model that the mess needed to be set right.    I would often say, “Uh oh!   Pee/poo goes in the potty.  Let’s clean up!”  and always had her sit on the potty and ask signal “pss pss” and say “Any more?  Can you try?”

These moments aren’t negatives or pauses.  Pause indicates there is cessation, and that isn’t what is happening.   It isn’t a thing to be feared or dreaded.
It is a time of  “experimentation, autonomy, and mutual learning.”

It is a time of  “experimentation, autonomy, and mutual learning.

I trust that she has the wisdom to learn how to walk and  to learn her elimination limits.    Inevitably, it did not last that long and there was always a reason I wasn’t understanding because I did not grow up seeing EC or practicing it.   I’ve got to learn from scratch.    Re-diapering would have sent the message that it was acceptable and desirable to go in your pants.   And it really isn’t (unless you are sick of course and have lost control).     Don’t get me wrong.  I did not put on any pressure to perform, instead I changed my behavior.   If I had been offering a lot, I backed off and gave the baby the reigns.   If I had not been active in reminding and found that accidents were rising, I took more responsibility back.   I tried my best to follow her lead.   I reminded myself that she didn’t want to soil herself, that she was aware she was doing it, but was needing some adjustment time especially in a world of so many toddler unfriendly obstacles (pants, carpet, floor, huge toilet…).    It’s JUST like holding her hand.   I’ve got to judge if she needs me to help and how much,  or if she needs me to back off.   Woe be to me if I offer a hand up for some stairs and she can do it herself — I get some lip for that!

So instead of the diaper being the “go to guy”, we should think in terms of what we would do if they didn’t exist.  Change your view and you change your solution options.

Articles of Note:
ETA 10/15/11   — There’s been a recent upsurge in the topic.

Drawing Tea — I’m on Strike:  The Dreaded Potty Pause
EC Simplified — When EC Stops Working:  How to Address and EC Potty Pause


Allergies are another issue.   When allergic to certain foods children may not be able to control their bladders efficiently.    Though this is not a lack of interest, it is a medical issue preventing continence. 

What about regression with a new sibling?    Again, not a lack of interest in being clean but a request for attention.    Clean up gets you as much one-on-one attention as that new invader’s butt is getting.   As with any regressive behavior, once they get what they need it resolves.  

About Laissez Faire

I am 41...42...43...44, 45, 46 married with two children, two cats, and a dog. Writing is my hobby, and learning and teaching my passions. Books! It used to be that I could devour several books a week when I had the time. I am usually too tired to stray awake these days with two kids. Currently my brain and energy levels have steered me to casual games, writing contests, and some inconsistent blogging.

Posted on June 26, 2011, in Parenting, Potty Training, Toddlers and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Nicely put, I couldn’t agree more. In Gross-loh’s book she says most full time ECers would put a nappy on after three consecutive misses. I think that’s the opposite of what should happen? I think pulling back a bit, to Allow them to “test bladder capacity” etc is the way to go, but all the while communicative with them etc. I thought we had entered a potty pause ten days ago and then I read that in China they don’t have them. So I thought “oh just a bad patch then” – and we went on to have the best week yet. Bizarre. But this morning… She just took a dump on our new carpet. Ha! Serves me right for just posting about how legendary it all is. Mwahahaha.

    • Haha! Every once in a while, when squatting my girl gets surprised by escapee poop. It is a potty position so I assume sometimes it is automatic when the colon is full 🙂 I’m glad that you mentioned that potty pauses don’t occur where ec is practiced. This is why we need to be careful of the words we use wen describing the process.

  2. Thanks so much for the encouragement! My 21-month-old is in undies all day, except for naptime and bedtime. I tried undies at naptime for a while, but found I was changing the sheets all the time, ugh. Anyhoo, he was doing beautifully, except for wet accidents here and there, and then out of the blue he started pooping in his pants again. I didn’t start using diapers again, but it has been hard to remain calm when I feel he knows what do to. *sigh* Sometimes I wish we spoke the same language and her could just plainly articulate what he wants instead of making me guess. 😛

  3. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this post! Thanks so much for sharing. I also don’t believe in “potty-pauses”, and I appreciate your articulate discussion of the many different aspects of this issue 🙂 Rachel

  4. I hope you don’t mind, but I am linking this post to the one I wrote today. It is excellent!

  5. I do so agree! When she was around 2 years old, when I was going through some old baby clothes, my daughter found the diaper covers for her old cloth diapers (the ones she wasn’t using by the time she was 12 months old). She wanted to try them on, so I let her, then I asked her if she knew what diapers were for… she had no idea! The thought to just spontaneously start soiling herself would never even cross her mind. Now, she gets to see her little newborn sister pooping and peeing away in a bucket 🙂

  6. Such a great way of looking at it. Thanks!

  7. Mmm, this may be fine for older children, our baby has been on the toilet since around 6weeks and has not done a poo in his nappy until recently. Suddenly he doesn’t like to sit on the toilet or potty and arches his back, his signal that he has finished and wants to get off, then he will poo in his nappy later. I have taken him to the potty mid poo and he stopped pooping, sat for a while, played with some toys, and then finished his poo about 2 hours later in his nappy. (We use cloth nappies). How does this occur?

  8. Very well written and I agree – parents need to know that babies have a primitive knowledge that we have lost and that we need to listen to our children when they are trying to tell us what they need and very often potty pauses are an attempt to do just that

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